Mikasa Park: A look at century-old memorial ship in Yokosuka

Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi

Mikasa Park: A look at century-old memorial ship in Yokosuka

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Get a glimpse of the past, with some help from the future, when you visit Memorial Ship Mikasa just outside Yokosuka Naval Base.

Permanently preserved in concrete on the water at Mikasa Park, the Mikasa is not only an attraction for naval history enthusiasts, it’s also an opportunity for everyone to get a personal glimpse of one of the world’s most notable memorial ships and the history that surrounds it.

The ship gained great fame during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) where she served as the flagship for Japan’s Combined Fleet under the command of Adm. Heihachiro Togo and destroyed 34 of Russia’s 38 warships in the Battle of Tsushima.

Visitors can peruse the deck, bridge and chart room; admire Mikasa’s 6- and 3-inch guns; and marvel at the intricate woodwork of the admiral’s quarters – all of which convey the essence of a great wartime past. Areas and structures roped off with colored tape indicate actual battle damage or portholes from which cannons were once fired.

The lower decks have been converted into a museum with exhibits related to the ship’s history, commanding officers and crewmen, as well as other persons and events relevant to Japan’s victory against the Russian fleet.

Recently, modern technology has made the tour of the lower decks more fun and interactive.

The vivid visual and sound effects of a virtual reality system will take you into the historical sea battle of the Japanese and Russian fleets.

A touch-panel display, available in English, offers up information on the ship and its history. There’s even a new ship handling simulator for those who want to experience what it would be like to navigate for yourself.

In addition, you can check out more than 250 elaborate scale models of naval ships on display.

Interestingly, it was a U.S. fleet admiral that played an important role in the restoration and preservation of this memorial ship. Today, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Japan, participates in a memorial ceremony aboard Mikasa on May 27 annually, and holds reenlistment ceremonies for sailors there.

“The Mikasa was restored as you see today thanks to Adm. Chester Nimitz and his Navy,” says retired Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Capt. Greg K. Kouta, the ship’s curator.

Nimitz, who admired Togo, donated his own money and encouraged the U.S. Navy to support the ship’s restoration. It had been severely damaged by the Allied Forces during the so-called postwar chaos after World War II, according to Kouta.

Although beautifully preserved today, unfortunately only about 40 percent of the ship is original.

“If it were preserved perfectly, I think it might be nominated as a World Heritage Site,” says Kouta.

Although Mikasa is not a World Heritage Site, it is nonetheless listed the Michelin Green Guide as a recommended attraction in Japan. It is one that is well worth checking out when stationed here as U.S. military personnel or family member.

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